Tony Bain

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Are we ready for self-driving cars?

May 23, 2016 | Tony Bain

Self-driving cars are becoming real and various predictions have them being mainstream over the next decade.  But it is interesting as to if we are ready for this innovation in transportation and how we will react when accidents involving self-driving cars invariably happen.

I am not a physiologist, but the human element of technology adoption is of course fundamental.  And a potential issue for self-driving cars is that, of course, roads are quite dangerous.  We hear about people being killed at the time.  In fact based on 2013 figures 0.02% of the world’s population (1.25 million people) are killed on the roads every year, over 3000 people a day globally.  Yet this is a risk that we accept and strap our most loved ones into our vehicles for journeys as trivial as going to the beach or getting ice-cream. 

So how do we accept and process this risk? As a species we seem to be able to deal with risk by applying a contrived analysis which results in use determining that bad things will never happen to me.  We hear about accidents, but we believe we are each a better driver than those involved, we are move observant, we have faster reaction times, there are lots of dangerous people on the road any my job as a good driver is just to avoid them.

I have no doubt that self-driving cars will make the roads safer, probably significantly so.  But accidents will still happen, it is improbable to think otherwise.  The software powering self-driving cars is typically prediction based – prediction = probability = (small/tiny) potential for being wrong.  How do we process the risk once I no longer have the advantage of my "better driving" – when everyone’s tech is the same as my tech and the responsibility for a safe journey is out of my hands?  For some, perhaps many, this will make the risk a lot more paramount and the act of going out for ice-cream somewhat more concerning.